DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – He wasn’t exonerated but a Dallas man who spent 31 years behind bars for sexual assault is now out of jail.
Wednesday a judge released Rickey Dale Wyatt and and recommended his 1981 conviction be set aside. “I’ll send these findings to the Court of Criminal Appeals and I’m also going to grant a motion for you to get out of jail today,” Judge John Creuzot told the courtroom.
The Dallas County District Attorney’s Office found evidence that they say the original prospectors in the case withheld, including evidence showing Wyatt did not match the victim’s initial description of her attacker.
Those on the team of prosecutors who convicted Wyatt adamantly deny accusations of misconduct.
The prosecutor involved in jury selection during the 1981 trial, Dallas attorney Doug Fletcher, said he’s offended by the District Attorney’s suggestion that crucial evidence was withheld that could have helped Wyatt’s defense.
Fletcher told CBS 11 News, “Any allegations of prosecutorial misconduct involving Mr. [James] Fry or myself are total nonsense. The atmosphere for that just didn’t exist down there at that time. It’s certainly unfair. These were men and women of the highest integrity.”
James Fry, the leading prosecutor in the Wyatt case, currently works as a private attorney in Sherman. Fry told CBS 11, “I take issue with it. I would never withhold or cover up anything. Watkins better be careful before he accuses someone of prosecutorial misconduct.”
Unlike past cases involving wrongful conviction, prosecutor Russell Wilson is not moving for a dismissal of the charge against Wyatt.
“We’ve established that there should be at a minimum a new trial and at a maximum a dismissal,” said Russell.
While theoretically the case against Wyatt could be retried Innocence Project attorney Barry Scheck doesn’t think that will happen. “I think ultimately we will be able to reach an agreement that dismisses the case,” he said.
For his part, Wyatt is simply happy to be free and said one of the first things he wants to do is go fishing and live out his life with his daughter, who was only three-years-old when he went to prison, and the granddaughter who he hugged for the first time Wednesday.
The now 56-year-old man has always maintained his innocence and said he was able to endure the decades of incarceration with, “My belief in God that I will overcome this. This is a learning experience ya know.”
Wyatt had been serving a 99-year prison term.